Cheryl Youland. Photo by Leigh Ann Laube.
When Cheryl Youland moved to Kingsport from Iowa, leaving an advertising and marketing job, she wasn’t necessarily looking for another job here. But through connections at Eastman Chemical Co., where her husband had been hired, she quickly found one.
For the past seven years, she’s been at the helm of the Tri-Cities affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Under her leadership, and with the help of countless volunteers, the local affiliate has grown from an operating budget of $200,000 to a $700,000 budget this past fiscal year, and has given back more than $2 million to local communities through community service grants. Through those grants, nearly 130 cancers have been detected in women who would not have otherwise had access to screenings.
On May 1, Youland will put away the pink and transition from her role as executive director.
Though she’ll continue to support Komen on a volunteer basis, she plans to work with organizations involved in post-secondary education and literacy. She will also spend more time with her family, including her elderly mother.
When the Youlands arrived in Kingsport, the Komen affiliate was in its infancy, having been established two years earlier. The Wellmont Regional Cancer Network and Mountain States Health Alliance, along with Eastman, took the lead role as founders with both in-kind and financial support.
“It’s been a very interesting, long journey. It was something I wanted to do to give back to the community,” Youland said, admitting that, at the time, she didn’t even know anyone with breast cancer. “It was definitely a very steep learning curve. ... I couldn’t give up. I just kept going and going.”
After 2 1/2 years with Komen, Youland’s job took on new meaning. Her own breast cancer diagnosis intensified her commitment to find a cure and help provide access to under-served women and men in the region.
“It became clear to me that this was what God wanted me to do,” she said. “The whole mission of the organization came into crystal clear focus. Raising funds to provide for the incredible grant programs is extremely important, but educating women and men on breast self-awareness is the key.”
The affiliate is a 501(c)(3) taxexempt organization serving 23 counties in Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Each year, through the support of corporate, individual, and foundation donors, third-party event fundraising, volunteers, survivors, activists and the annual Tri-Cities Susan G. Komen Race for Cure — Komen’s signature event — the affiliate raises funds to provide grants to hospitals, health organizations and nonprofit community organizations. These organizations, in turn, provide breast health education and breast cancer screening and treatment options for medically underserved women throughout the service area.
“One of the things I am most proud of is that we have been able to create a place where women and men who have been affected by this dreadful disease can come together to meet others, give of their time and talents, donate, and know that they are playing such an important role in helping us to keep our promise of stopping this disease in its tracks,” she said.
Youland said the organization has far surpassed the fundraising, educational and Race for the Cure objectives set forth in the original strategic plan.
“We more than surpassed them. We had some very strong growth in every way,” she said. “What we’ve been able to do ... is through that solid base. Even though funds come and go, we just have a very strong supporter base and I don’t think that goes away. Also, we’ve grown the overall revenues.”
Since 2005, under Youland’s guidance, the affiliate has created new fundraising events, including the Pink Tie Gala and Laugh for the Cure, as well as revamped the Survivor Celebration held each spring.
Youland helped implement other programs that have helped focus efforts at the mission of Susan G. Komen through its signature fundraiser by establishing the “Pink Honor Roll” designed to uniquely recognize the top 25 individual fundraisers for that year. She also brought the “Do You Tutu?” campaign to the Tr i - C i t i e s .
Youland’s last official event will be Laugh for the Cure, a new fundraising event set for March 8 at the Event Foundation Facility, 620 State St., in downtown Bristol, Tenn. Mike Armstrong, a former police officer from Louisville, Ky., will be the featured comedian. Tickets are $35 each. VIP tickets are $100 each.
Youland says now just feels like the right time to leave the organization.
“I haven’t read a fiction novel in so long, it’s crazy,” she said.
She’ll also find time to visit with her sons and their families, as well as her mother.
A search committee has been formed and is working to find the right replacement to lead Komen going forward. The organization hopes to have a new executive director on board by April 1.
“She did a tremendous amount to grow this affiliate during her time as executive director and she will be greatly missed. Cheryl’s tireless efforts helped so many women in our service region of 23 counties,” said current board President Curt Rose.
“Cheryl has seen a lot of change during her tenure as executive director,” added Betty DeVinney, the former Eastman executive who was instrumental in starting the Komen affiliate. “She has really experienced what the organization is about as she was diagnosed with breast cancer and is one of the many survivors that we can celebrate. The affiliate is reaching a more mature stage because of her. We will miss her. ”